Ergonomics in the cab of expedition vehicles (especially Classic Defender and Series)

On any long trip, the cab of an overland 4×4 is your office. It’s your workspace, and you need to think about how to get it fitted out in the way that suits you best. If your chosen steed is a “Classic” Defender or Series then the 1950s ergonomics can be trying (“Comfort? Don’t be silly, I just need somewhere for me pipe and me rifle, what?!”). Various aftermarket goodies exist to help – MUD UK’s armrest pads that fit on the window ledge are a good example. Defender’s gauge illumination can be quite dim, and it’s a simple matter to beef up the bulbs with LED units. Equally – these can then be too bright, and quite dazzling! See what works for you. In general, be wary when fitting extra electrical kit to your dashboard, and be mindful of how bright and glaring the illumination is. If it causes eye strain on long night-time drives it might be worth working on a way of dimming it or turning it off when not in use.

Exmoor Trim make neat door pockets for Series and early Defender doors

 Finding space for a GPS, CB, stereo and extra gauges on older Defenders and Series trucks can also be a chore. Various pods and accessory binnacles exist, such as the MUD Pod, some using the ashtray in the centre of the dashboard top as a mounting point, and several GPS units have a bracket which can be epoxyed to the vertical face of the dashboard/bulkhead region. Terrafirma (amongst others) make an overhead console too which means you can mount equipment at roof level, and they also make a neat overhead stowage bay like that of the Discovery 1 and 2 in which to store paperwork. You can also get back-of-seat stowage pouch systems, though they can either look too military for safe overland use, or be wildly flimsy and just sag horribly. MUD make a great stowage bin that screws onto the rear of a Classic Defender cubby box for large items, or things that are needed in a hurry. Be wary of too much extra stowage – extra space sometimes leads to “Ooh – I’ll just put this in, and this, and this….” which is a potential recipe for Death By Clutter. Aftermarket seats are a big plus for many – several models of saloon car have seats that will just bolt straight in. However this can cause issues with lack of access to the underseat lockers, so for many Defender and Series drivers, me included, it’s a non starter.

Garmin Montana windscreen mount. Handy but vulnerable to shaking when in very rough terrain

                Discovery 1 and 2 are much easier to drive in and “live” in, though the top of that D2 cubby box does dig into my elbow after 12 hours on the road! Aftermarket padding does exist for them, or you can do what I did and sort some out for yourself with a staple gun.  

                Seat covers are a real benefit when travelling. Not only do they help when in hot environments, making the seats less sweaty and slippy, they also protect the original seat material from constant to-ing and fro-ing by driver and passengers, which can cause damage and even rips. There are various makes, at various prices and made from various textiles. Old-school cotton canvas is probably the best. The mesh seatback ventilators pads you can buy in car accessory shops are a real boon for hot climate travel.

Camp Cover make neat organiser pouches

                Beyond the factory-fit ergonomics, there are various things you can do to make your “office” move liveable-in. Having important kit close to hand is always a big deal, especially when rolling up to a police checkpoint or border crossing. MOLLE, the designers and makers of the modular military webbing system, make a neat retractable lanyard called a Zinger which can attach somewhere in the cab for small, useful, losable things like pens, bottle openers, multitools and so on. If you balk at the price and chunkiness of this, then an eBay search for “retractable lanyard” will turn up other options. Some overlanders keep the loo roll on the gear lever in a Defender, secured with an elastic band – though that’s not for everyone! Camp Cover make a neat pocket unit that sits atop the transmission tunnel and is easy-access storage for small items. Headtorches can be stored on the seat headrest, though looping them around the headrest will over-stretch the elastic over time. Better to loosely knot them round the headrest support or seat-side grab-handle on a Discovery.

Insulated, reflective window shades from Matt Savage and unbreakable, wide angle mirrors from Spafax

Things to keep handy in a cubby box could be wet wipes, batteries of different sizes, memory cards (Pelican cases make a great slimline strongbox for camera cards), a lighter or matches, important documents, cash, tissues and so on. A brew kit, with a compact stove like a Jetboil, is also a possibility. Catering sachets of 3-in-1 instant coffee and tea are great to have in this instance. Some travellers choose to carry a fake wallet full of expired or fake bank cards when in risky areas so that if thieves reach in to grab stuff, they grab the fakes rather than anything more important.

If it seems there’s quite a potential shopping list there, well, Christmas is coming…..!


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